The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
By Alan Knott-Craig*
Let’s start with the fact that two of the biggest companies in the world just posted their results. Apple grew 54%. Facebook 78%.
54% and 78%.
Tech companies are booming.
Digital transformation is not coming. It’s here.
If there’s one thing that the post-Covid world has triggered, it’s wholesale digital transformation.
There will be many new normals. For retailers, for schools, for families.
What is the new normal for companies?
Before proceeding, understand that whilst all these trends will apply in different ways to different businesses, different employees and different circumstances at different times.
As a leader you need to understand which is applicable to your business and adopt the right blend for your organisation.
Failing which you will become extinct, or even worse: irrelevant.
1. Offices are still important, just not so important
There’s a perception that all companies will permanently shrink office space, or even abandon them altogether in favour of remote working.
On paper that makes sense, but in reality, it’s more complicated.
Firstly, it’s about age: Young people don’t want to work from home.
Youngsters want to socialise. Youngster want to learn. Youngsters want to eat pizza with co-workers at 1pm. Youngsters want to go to office.
If your workforce has a youthful cohort, the imperative to have offices is more pressing than if you employ over 40’s.
Without physical office space, you will lose your young talent, and you won’t be able to attract talent.
Secondly, it’s about culture & image & sales.
Corporate offices are not just about workspace. They’re about culture, about image, and about sales.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that small companies will migrate towards shared workspace, i.e.: Workshop17 and WeWork. A small company doesn’t have the cash to carry the costs of permanent receptionist, security, IT support.
It makes much sense to split the costs via shared workspaces.
What is the size at which shared workspace is inappropriate? 70:1 is the ideal ratio for IT support vs staff, assuming a single operating system.
So that’s probably the number: over 70 staff, get your own office.
Not only does having your own office give you a chance to build your own unique culture using your office décor, but you can differentiate your working conditions for staff, making yourself a more attractive employer, and perhaps most important: You can impress your clients.
Never forget that your office can be a tool for sales.
Have a shared workspace sends a message. Having your own office sends a different message.
2. Sick days
Hand sanitising is here to stay. Fist bumps, elbow nudges, not touching your face.
All of this means less transmission of bacteria and viruses, which means fewer illness, which means fewer sick days.
The work force will be more productive, energetic and happy.
3. Non-performers can’t hide
It is now harder for the slackers to hide away. Showing face at the office every day and playing politics won’t be enough to show you add value.
Due to remote-working, many companies have already gone the surveillance route to establish whether staff are being productive.
Measurement of output is becoming more efficient.
Good news for managers and stars
Not so good for slackers: there’s no more hiding.
4. Left vs right brainers, introverts vs extroverts
Left brainers will not see the logic in returning to work.
Right brainers will go into depression not returning to work.
Introverts will become more introverted.
Extroverts will become depressed.
Some people need people around them to motivate them.
Some people need people around them to create a team environment.
Some people need people around them to create and maintain positive morale.
The world will now accommodate home-stayers, but companies will have to create scheduled virtual social time and will inevitably revert back to using a physical office space to force staff to spend time together.
A formal office address and forced office hours are the only way to mitigate the extreme tendencies of all of the above.
5. Relationship capital
Intra-company relationships are critical to speed, and these relationships are built in the cigarette corner, or the coffee cooler, or at the company bar.
This is the stuff that helps overcome petty differences. It is called relationship capital*.
Relationship capital is built by small deposits over time. When things go awry, a withdrawal is made.
Covid has resulted in a significant reduction in that capital: Lots of withdrawals with limited opportunity to top-up.
It’s not easy making deposits in a virtual world. Most colleagues are not house friends and have little in common except an employer. Most relationship capital is built-up due to forced proximity.
Office space ain’t going away.
6. Digital engagement
Companies that force customers to engage in-person are doomed.
Everything from ticketing, to FICA, to loan applications, to passport renewals, is now digital.
Great news for the customer (less time wasted visiting the bank) and great news for the environment (less paper).
7. Working hours flexibility
There is permanent change to work flexibility. Flexi-time is here to stay.
Unless you have a specific job that requires specific hours, i.e. receptionist or security guard, there will be no more forcing people to be at the office by 8am.
Companies will adopt this new reality at differing speeds, depending on whether the boss is a narcissist/psychopath/retiree.
Progressive leaders will use the new general expectations as an opportunity to win the war on talent by offering flexible work arrangements.
That’s good news for the environment and good news for stress and good news for family.
People can schedule their commute around rush hour and school drop-off/pick-up times, saving them time and hassle, and making everyone more productive and happier.
8. Working hours intensity
Being able to work from home seems to lead to more productivity as there is less friction from commuting, socialising and meals.
But it can lead to over-work, not switching off, stress, family issues. These drawbacks can lead to long term loss of productivity due to burn-out, health issues or marriage problems.
Also, home working is definitely not more productive if children are part of the background.
Managing working hours intensity for remote-workers is now a challenge for employers that have the long-term interests of staff in mind.
9. Less business travel
Video conferencing is definitely the new normal, even for board meetings. Why get on a plane and fly to Jhb? Or Durban? Or London?
It’s so much more efficient to video conference using Zoom or Teams.
The bigger issue is skills & etiquette. Knowing to keep your video on during calls. Reading other’s facial expressions. Minimising background noise.
Soon, Zoom etiquette will be a course offered by every HR dept.
No more going to shops to buy dog food.
Food deliveries to your door.
Less time hassling, more time working.
11. Decentralisation of the workforce
Especially for knowledge workers, more people will find it possible to live on the beach, or in the bush, or on a farm, and tele-commute. This alleviates urbanisation and the pressure on city infrastructure.
It doesn’t matter where you live, so you can live anywhere.
As long as you have internet.
12. Work-life integration
With remote working, the goal is no longer a work-life balance but rather a better integration of work into one’s life.
Refer to point 8.
13. Online learning
Finally, the penny has dropped. It’s no longer needed for staff to be dragged to off-site training facilities. Everything is online and on-going.
Welcome to the new normal. There’s no fighting digital transformation.
It’s here, get on the bus.
- Alan Knott-Craig is a successful entrepreneur, best-selling author, and founder of Project Isizwe, an NGO that deploys affordable public WiFi to rural communities across Africa. He is also the founder of HeroTel, a broadband operator operating throughout SA. Originally from Pretoria, he studied at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (formerly UPE) and qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Deloitte in 2002. Between 2003 and 2017 he co-founded and/or funded 27 companies in the Technology, Media and Telecommunications sector in Africa. He was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009.
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